Hi, I’m Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer, here with your quick shot of legal wellness. Well, the jury has “cut” through the clatter and the verdict is in. Johnny Depp won but exactly how did he win? Let’s dissect the verdict in a way that the media simply isn’t.
Remember, there were two lawsuits being tried here: Johnny Depp’s case against Amber Heard and Amber Heard’s case against Johnny Depp. First, Depp vs. Heard, the case where Depp “carved” Heard up. Now, here’s the actual jury verdict form that was used in court and when you walk through it, things are really quite simple. Depp asked the jury to decide whether three statements Heard published in her Washington Post op-ed satisfied the requirements to prove defamation. Here’s the first one: “I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” Here’s the second one: “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse and felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” Here’s the third: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing in real time how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
Now, on all three statements, the seven-member jury unanimously concluded six things:
Now for all this, the jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages, which means money to compensate him for things like lost movie deals and other botched lost opportunities. But, here’s my question. How did the jury know which opportunities were attributable to Heard’s op-ed vs. other bad press, like the London libel trial that he lost in 2020 where the Sun newspaper called him a wife beater? You know, we just can’t know and why? Because the jury’s deliberations are done in secret.
Now, in addition to all this, the jury awarded him another $5 million in punitive damages. Those are meant to punish a defendant. That means the jury really didn’t like Heard, but Virginia Law has a cap on punitive damages. His punitive damages were “sliced” down to only $350,000. So that’s the Depp half of the trial.
Let’s now turn to Heard. What did she sue Depp for? Well, she sued him for defamation, too, but her defamation case involved three statements published in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid. Unlike his side of the case, only one of her defamation allegations “drew blood.” Now here’s her verdict form. Awhile back, one of Depp’s former lawyers, Adam Waldman, “cut” Heard up in the Daily Mail. He said this quite simply: “This was an ambush, a hoax. They set Mr. Depp up by calling the cops. But the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouse, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to her face or property. So, Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their story straight, and under the direction of a lawyer and a publicist, placed a second call to 9-1-1.” On this statement, the jury found that Waldman, while acting as Depp’s agent, satisfied those same elements for defamation. But the jury only grazed Depp, awarding Heard only $2 million in compensatory damages and nothing in punitives. Now my question is of this verdict, whether this $2 million will be a set off against depths $10 million $350,000 or will he insist that Walden pay for it, perhaps even suing him for breach of contract or legal malpractice for shooting his mouth off? We’ll have to wait and see.
So, what does all of this mean for us? What lessons can we derive from the mistakes that Depp and Heard made? To me, these verdicts mean that the things you say (slander) and the things you write (libel) can come back to “cut you.” I mean, when Heard published her op-ed, she certainly didn’t think it would cost her $10 million.
We are far too glib about what we say on Twitter and what we post online. Whether you believe Depp assaulted Heard or not, and by the way the truth is a defense to defamation, my point is that anything you say could get you sued, especially online. So, what’s the best bet? Watch closely what you say online and elsewhere. Now that you know a little something about defamation law, you can do your best to avoid someone “cutting” you down to size.
If you’d like to learn more about legal wellness, please subscribe to my YouTube channel or visit me at yourlovablelawyer.com. Until next time, I’m Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer.
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